What Amounts To Sexual Harassment: An Analysis

Being one of the most influential cases in time, the Vishakha vs State of Rajasthan case has been the driving force in moulding the employment laws when it comes to installing a safe and welcoming work environment. The guidelines imparted by the apex court in Vishakha case have led to the enactment of the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, even if it took forever and a day.

The Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act or POSH, 2013 not only lays down the preventive measures, complaint mechanism and inquiry procedure in case of a sexual harassment complaint, it also defines the acts that can be contemplated as sexual harassment at workplace.

What Does Sexual Harassment At Workplace Mean?

Sexual harassment at workplace is a wide term that covers numerous acts, direct or implied, that includes any form of sexually-tinted behaviour such as:

  • Making physical contact and advances.
  • Demanding or requesting for sexual favours.
  • Making sexually-coloured remarks.
  • Showing pornography.
  • Any unwelcome physical, spoken, written demeanour which is in a sexual nature.

Sexual harassment may also amount to any of the following situations if it occurs or is present in relation or connected with any act or behaviour of sexual harassment:

  • Making an implied or explicit promise to provide preferential treatment in employment.
  • Threatening impliedly or explicitly of any detrimental treatment in employment.
  • Threatening impliedly or explicitly about the present or future status of the victim’s employment.
  • Interfering with the work or creating a daunting, offensive or hostile work environment.
  • Treating the employee with humiliation that is likely to affect the employee’s health or safety.

Acts That Amount To Sexual Harassment At Work

The definition given under Section 2(n) or Section 3(2) of the POSH Act is inclusive and includes an expansive array of acts, gestures and expressions having sexual connotations. Any of the following acts may be considered as sexual harassment at workplace within the meaning of this provisions:

  • Asking inappropriate questions about an employee’s sexual life.
  • Making suggestions or remarks about an employee’s personal life.
  • Making offensive jokes, teasing or commenting on a person’s physical appearance.
  • Sending offensive or sexually-coloured jokes, pictures, posters, SMS, social media posts or email to the employee.
  • Intimidating the employee to elicit sexual favours.
  • Threatening or blackmailing the employee to elicit sexual favours.
  • Making unwelcome physical contact.
  • Invading an employee’s personal space by getting too close, cornering, etc.
  • Stalking an employee physically or online.
  • Making unwanted social invitations.
  • Interminably approaching the employee to ‘ask her out’.
  • Falsely implying or spreading rumours about an employee’s personal life.

An important thing to note here is that sexual harassment at workplace not only means any act of sexual harassment taking place within the four walls of the office or factory or an establishment, it also includes after-hours conversations, communication outside the workplace during the course of employment as well as non-office settings of employees.

The responsibility lies upon the employer in ensuring a safe working environment wherein the employees feel comfortable and welcoming. A prevention of sexual harassment at workplace policy, an Internal Complaints Committee or bringing sexual harassment under the ambit of misconduct is not enough unless the mindset of a society with deep-rooted misogyny and patriarchy are metamorphosed.

Sexual harassment of women is considered as the blatant violation of their constitutional rights including the right to equality and right to a dignified life, as well as the basic human rights recognized under the set international standards. The #MeToo movement is merely the next installment of a story as old as the hills and next one can be even more glorious


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Shivi Gupta 
on 31 October 2018
Published in Labour & Service Law
Views : 692
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